The Ghetto

Lola Ridge (1873–1941)

“The Ghetto” is a long free-verse poem, from Lola Ridge’s 1919 book The Ghetto and Other Poems. This poem moved me deeply when I read it for the collaborative LibriVox volume “American Women’s Literature, 1847-1922.”  I give here only some small excerpts from section III of “The Ghetto.”


. . . .

The sturdy Ghetto children
March by the parade,
Waving their toy flags,
Prancing to the bugles —
Lusty, unafraid . . .
Shaking little fire sticks
At the night —
The old blinking night —
Swerving out of the way,
Wrapped in her darkness like a shawl.

But a small girl
Cowers apart.
Her braided head,
Shiny as a black-bird’s
In the gleam of the torch-light,
Is poised as for flight.
Her eyes have the glow
Of darkened lights.

. . . .

Suddenly she darts through the crowd
Like a little white panic
Blown along the night —
Away from the terror of oncoming feet . . .
And drums rattling like curses in red roaring mouths . . .
And torches spluttering silver fire
And lights that nose out hiding places . . .

. . . .

The sturdy Ghetto children
March by the parade,
Waving their toy flags,
Prancing to the bugles,
Lusty, unafraid.
But I see a white frock
And eyes like hooded lights
Out of the shadow of pogroms
Watching . . . watching . . .


You might also like From Plotzk to Boston, by Mary Antin,  who writes with a great deal of poetic sensibility.